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By Charlotte Smith

My elective journey

5 min
Charlotte Smith and other medical students in scrubs standing together on a beach in the Caribbean

Preparing for your medical elective? Here, Charlotte Smith shares her experience of planning her elective in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.

I’m Charlotte, a fifth-year medical student at Hull York Medical School. I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks completing my elective in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.

I completed this elective in July and August of 2023, in between my fourth and fifth years of studying, but every medical school holds electives at different times within the MBBS.

When did I start planning my elective and how did I choose the location?

I started planning my elective in November 2022, mainly because the medical school required a thorough risk assessment of the trip in advance.

I had no idea what I wanted to do for my elective but hoped to be able to complete at least part of it abroad. I wanted to experience a healthcare system in a different country, but it’s also an opportunity to visit somewhere I had never been before.

I don’t speak any other languages, so I had to narrow it down to English-speaking countries. The Caribbean seemed a good fit!

Who did I contact to arrange it?

I quickly realised that to organise an elective abroad directly with a hospital or organisation was difficult, so I looked at elective companies.

There are quite a few out there and I ended up using Caribbean Electives Abroad. Accommodation, the programme, airport transfers and an on-island team were all included in the package, making organisation simple and straightforward.

What did I want to get out of it?

I really wanted to experience a different healthcare system, practice with a new demographic of patients, and really soak up the culture and way of life in another country.

I devised some learning objectives and sent them to the medical school, but it was certainly a work-hard-play-much-harder situation! The Caribbean is full of turquoise waters, sandy beaches, waterfalls and stunning tropical rainforests. I was planning on taking full advantage of them.

Caribbean beach

How did I plan costs?

Sadly, it’s true that the cost of an elective is high – especially one carried out abroad. I was fortunate enough to have savings from working throughout medical school, as well at lots of help from family.

The electives company required a deposit, and the remainder of the balance could be paid over the months leading up to the trip. As for flights out there, I did leave booking until the last minute. I wouldn’t recommend this though, because by the time I came to book them, the price had doubled.

Other costs included travel insurance and spending money. It’s worth remembering that all accommodation, travel insurance and travel costs (to and from placement, not flights, sadly) can be claimed back via the NHS travel bursary. This is 100% worth looking into and applying for.

Another way to cut costs, but to still have an abroad experience, is to split your elective in two if your medical school allows you to. For example, you could do two weeks abroad and four weeks in the UK. This requires more organisation, but it’s worth exploring.

What else did I plan for?

As I was travelling abroad, I needed travel insurance. I purchased this through Wesleyan*, because it was insurance tailored to medical electives. This put my mind at ease as it was a big trip.

I was pleased to see that it covered lots of activities, such as scuba diving, which I was fortunate enough to try while I was out there. The whole process was simple and fast, and I couldn’t recommend them enough.

I also ensured I had indemnity insurance for my elective via the MDU. If you fill in an online enquiry via their website, someone should be able to help you with it. This was completely free.

What things happened along the way that I didn’t expect?

Overall, I was fairly prepared for this trip. But there were some unexpected problems along the way.

Firstly, the inter-island travel in the Caribbean was atrocious. On the way there, my second flight from Barbados to Saint Vincent was delayed by many hours, and there was a potential that we would be stranded there for the evening.

The communication from the airline was pretty poor, so it was a concerning experience, but thankfully we still got to Saint Vincent that evening.

I wasn’t prepared for the extremely slow-paced life in the Caribbean either. Getting anywhere was a nightmare. However, I did get used to it. The culture was so different, but I fully embraced it, including the cuisine.

While I was out there, I didn’t become unwell to the point that I needed medical help or medication, but my friend did. With this in mind, I can’t reiterate enough the importance of getting good travel insurance to ensure you’re fully covered.

What did I do on my elective?

My placement was mostly in a small private hospital and community centre where I observed and became involved in clinics and some small procedures.

I also went to the island’s main hospital and spent some time in emergency care and surgical theatres. I met lots of American students who were studying out there too. They organised a community health fair that I participated in.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I got to compare a lot of processes to how things are done within the NHS.

In my free time I got up to lots of cool things. I spent time at a beach club, hiked up a volcano, spent the day at a gorgeous waterfall, went kayaking and scuba diving, visited the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, swam with turtles on a boat trip, went on a sunset cruise and so much more!

It was seriously the time of my life and I have quite often wished I was back there during fifth-year exam season. Good luck planning your elective – and make the most of it!

* Wesleyan Financial Services broker travel insurance through Millstream Underwriting Limited, for which they receive commission.

Limits and exclusions do apply. Full terms and conditions of the policy and cover, including the policy benefits and exclusions will be contained in the Policy Wording and Policy Summary. Risk must be acceptable to underwriters at normal term.

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